By SARA ARTHURS
Kiwanis International needs to grow its membership not for its own sake, but because the work Kiwanis does saves children’s lives, the president-elect of the international service organization told the Kiwanis Club of Findlay on Wednesday.
Dr. John R. Button of Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada spoke to Findlay’s Kiwanis Club at its regular meeting at the DOCK at St. Marks United Methodist Church in Findlay.
Button and his wife Debbie received a tour of Findlay from local Kiwanis members. Along with past president Alan Penn and his wife Jeri, they served dinner at City Mission Tuesday night. Button said both Findlay as a community and the Kiwanis club appear to be “on fire.”
“I am bowled over by the work that the Kiwanis Club of Findlay is doing,” he said.
Button told several jokes during his remarks but he also stuck to the serious message: the efforts of Kiwanis are saving lives and must continue.
Button said Kiwanis International is closing in on its goal for a $110 million campaign to eliminate neonatal tetanus, which he said kills a newborn baby every nine minutes, causing a painful death in which the baby cannot be touched and is constantly suffers seizures.
“We’re going to end that,” he said.
The decline in recent years of Kiwanis membership means “children in need are paying the price,” Button said.
He said Kiwanis must look to the future.
“We have done so much for the children of the world but their needs are still great and they grow daily,” he said.
He said the organization must change to succeed, and this may mean taking some risks.
“My friends, we are all in the same boat, and it has a big leak,” he said.
One-third of new Kiwanis clubs dissolve within five years of receiving their charter and many others in the years following that.
“We lost 260 clubs last year,” he said.
Two-thirds of new members are gone after eight years, he said. Kiwanis had 207,000 members at the start of the 2013-2014 year and many members consider getting below 200,000 the danger point.
So Button said he feels a “fierce sense of urgency” and wants to instill that sense into Kiwanis members.
“What we have to do is too important to tolerate a mediocre effort,” he said.
Helping Kiwanis thrive may mean making changes and it will be a challenge to “let go of the status quo.”
He has reduced the number of international committees to 10. There were previously 30 to 40.
Button’s goal is to continue to grow Kiwanis membership. He is working to increase membership from graduates of Key Club, Kiwanis’ high school program, and Circle K, a university program. Kiwanis is attracting younger adults and is developing “real flexibility” such as scheduling its meetings at times that work for these people’s schedules, he said.
Button spoke on “servant-leadership” and said management and leadership are not the same thing. Leaders “do not inflict pain,” he said. “They share it. They demand accountability of themselves as well.”
If leadership sets their expectations low “that is exactly what they will get,” Button said.
“Servant-leadership is about empowerment and I am pledged to that philosophy,” he said.
Button, a second-generation Kiwanian, became president-elect of Kiwanis International in June 2013. He joined the Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown in 1978. He chaired the Iodine Deficiency Disorders Worldwide Service Project committee for his club and division. He is a lieutenant governor of his division and past governor of the eastern Canada and Caribbean District.
He is a retired family physician and for the past 17 years has been a coroner for the southwestern region of the province of Ontario.
Members of Kiwanis clubs from several other communities throughout Ohio came to hear Button speak on Wednesday.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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